Monthly Archives: July 2013

From Cremsain Valley to the Naqab

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Land to be annexed by Israel in the Cremisan Valley, part of the Cremisan Winery, Salesian Convent

From Cremsain Valley to the Naqab

Land Seizures, Annexations & Violations of International Law

July 31st, 2013 // 3:55 PM

My mom started the long journey home yesterday, and so on Monday we planned our final day trip to Cremisan Winery for the last round of gifts. We hired the “family” taxi driver (whose service has been called on for two decades) to take us up to the hill tops of Beit Jala. As I looked over the valley I saw the wall curve into the cavern of the hill, forming and a long U-shape. This version of the wall was even stranger than usual, topped by a solid-canopy forming a tent-like enclosure ostensibly “protecting” Israelis from Palestinians.

Like so many villages throughout Palestine, Cremisan Valley has been the site of numerous protests against Israel’s annexation wall. Both the Salesian Sisters of Cremisan Convent and the Palestinians of Beit Jala will soon see their land annexed by the wall, which will separate more than 50 Palestinian families from their agricultural land (1) with only restricted access via an agricultural gate. These gates are controled by the Israeli authorities who often leave Palestinians waiting for hours before responding to requests for entrance, if responding at all. In addition, the the wall will separate the Salesian Convent from 75% of its land (2). The separation wall will, in fact, divide the the Salesian Convent’s territory in two parts, with the agricultural land and monastery in “Israel proper”, and the convent and primary school in the West Bank.

An appeal is being filled (after a seven year legal battle) of the recent ruling to construct the annexation wall in Cremisan Valley; however, as with many actions in Palestine, success often requires international attention and support to postpone often inevitable land seizures and violations of international law. (Petition to save Cremisan Valley: http://www.change.org/petitions/save-the-valley-in-cremisan-support-bridges-not-walls).

To further demonstrate their authority in the face of popular resistance, Israeli forces raided the Cremisan Monastery in Bethlehem just this past Sunday, July 28th. As reported by the Independent Catholic News, “Witnesses told the Palestinian News and Info Agency (WAFA) that Israeli soldiers broke into the monastery, held the people who were inside, and inspected their personal documents. The raid has been condemned as a violation of the sanctity of places of worship, and a violation of international law.”(3)

As we drove up to Cremisan Winery, located on an uppermost hill top of Beit Jala, our taxi driver pulled momentarily to the side of the road as my mother pointed out the terraced slopes which have characterized the Palestinian landscape over countless centuries, and are now so quickly disappearing with the seizure of land and the lack of agricultural space. Our driver points out the farm at the bottom of the terraced slope. “This farm is completely cut off from the rest of Beit Jala by the wall. They have no electricity, and have to bring in their water supply by truck, which costs three times what it costs the Israeli settlers on the top of that hill over there. It’s hard for them to live here because they are cut off from everything, and are often threatened by settlers. But they live here still.”

Chances are that the separation wall will go up through Cremisan, and chances are that the Palestinian’s living in this territory will see their land annexed by Israel, and again their lives will be made more difficult. However, as the drivers said to me, “I am not scared of anything. I have been attacked by settlers three times. I was shot at by soldiers and had to run away and leave my car. In the siege of Bethlehem [in 2002] my entire house was destroyed. I am no longer scared. We lived here through all that, and we will continue living here. Inshallah, one day it won’t be like this.”

This is only one man’s story. And the story of Cremisan is the story of only one valley near Bethlehem. But this happens all over Palestine. Everyday. Tomorrow Palestinians and international activists will come together for the second time in the past month to protest the Prawer Plan, which intends to evict 50,000 Palestinian Bedouins from their land in the Naqab (Negev):

“On July 15, thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel along with Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and regional refugee camps, held numerous demonstrations against the so-called Prawer Plan being advanced by the Israeli government. Protesters – including Palestinian Members of the Israeli Knesset, marched, blocked roads, and were violently dispersed by security services (including several arrests).This second ‘Day of Rage’ promises to be even bigger, as Palestinians assert their opposition to a plan condemned just this week by UN human rights chief Navi Pillay.” (3)

To read more: http://www.alternativenews.org/english/index.php/politics/activism/6827-palestinian-activists-call-for-day-of-rage-on-18-6827)

(1) http://www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=23041
(2) Ibid.
(3) Ibid.
(4) http://www.alternativenews.org/english/index.php/politics/activism/6827-palestinian-activists-call-for-day-of-rage-on-18-6827
Beit Jala farm and terraced field [farm in lower right corner]
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Agricultural land belonging to the Cremisan Winery, Salesian Convent
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Cremisan Winery
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“Tourist Guide to the Occupation”

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Updated “Tourist Guide to the Occupation” installed in Manger Square

“Tourist Guide to the Occupation”

July 27th, 2013 // 2:02 PM

The new “Tourist Guide to the Occupation” signboard is finally up in Manger Square in front of the Bethlehem Peace Center, across from the Church of the Nativity. We started redesigning the layout in January 2013, including additional languages (now in Arabic, English, French, German, and Italian, with Russian translations available inside the Peace Center), and now after several months we have the final product. The realization of the new signboard was the result of an all-round community effort, both in Bethlehem with help from the Mayor, Municipality, Bethlehem Peace Center, and numerous others, as well as in Sacramento from SacramentoBethlehem Sister City and its partners and friends.

Today’s installation of the poster was another example of the community effort and friendship that characterizes the Sacramento-Bethlehem relationship. When I went to unlock the glass door protecting the signboard this morning, and the key got stuck in the lock, I was immediately approached by helpful hands. The municipality came to the rescue with oil to loosen and open the lock. When I started clearing the glass, volunteers came quickly to assist from the Bethlehem Peace Center. When the printers came to install the new poster they were offered assistance and advice by passers by who had been around already helping with the lock and the clearing. Those in the square were quick to offer assistance, until what started as a one-woman job ended as a joint effort, concluding with all involved admiring their work.

The only remaining step is to repaint the exterior of the signboard. Next time you are in Bethlehem we hope you come visit, and be sure to point friends and family in our direction!

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Between Bethlehem and Jerusalem

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Image of the wall coming down between Bethlehem and Jerusalem

“Between Bethlehem and Jerusalem”

July 21st, 2013 // 7:53 PM

Matthew 10:14
“And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.” ~ Jesus on Jerusalem (care of my mother)

We finally made it over to Jerusalem today. We drove past it on our first night here, however, since arriving in the confines of Bethlehem (including Beit Sahour and Beit Jala), and through the border crossing, I have been perfectly content with the amount of exploring Bethlehem has to offer. This is not to say that I don’t plan on exploring more of Palestine, but rather that as a natural homebody in a very homey atmosphere, I have slipped into my natural habits. In any case, everyday presents opportunities for small adventures, such as yesterday’s excursion to the Franciscan office in the Church of St. Catherine’s, where we were shown records for our family tribe stretching back to the 1600’s. Afterwards I was lucky enough to make an appointment with a local Bethlehemite professor to help guide me in graduate research I hope to commence here. I came home to a full afternoon of coloring with my niece and nephew, and by the time dinner was over I was ready to curl up in bed with a new book from the Bethlehem Peace Center.

But today was destined to be a different kind of day. Our friend (and taxi driver) picked us up in a hurry this morning, not wanting to be late for a relative’s baptism. As we were about to leave Bethlehem he received a call from his niece asking for a ride to Jerusalem, where her mother-in-law was in the hospital. At the border crossing our American passports caused no disturbance, however, her Palestinian papers caused the usual ruckus. I couldn’t see the soldiers faces as they stood up next to the car with only their torsos showing, and the large weapons strapped over their shoulders. Three soldiers questioned our friend through the driver’s window regarding the Palestinian girl’s presence in the car. He eventually got us through, assuring them that he would have taken the other road [e.g the longer, non-Israeli road] but he only picked her up on the way, and his rush to get her to the hospital was the only reason he brought her this route. After some more hassling we were allowed through, my mom insisting in her clear American accent, “The poor girl needs to get to the hospital!”

We arrived in Jerusalem almost immediately. Now writing from my bed, the distance between Bethlehem and Jerusalem feels like it must be hundreds of miles. The most marked difference upon entering the city limit was the immediate lack of Arabic signage (apart from the roadsigns in Hebrew, English and Arabic). I have become accustomed to the Arabic, or Latin-letter-Arabic, which lines the streets of Bethlehem. I saw a soldier running to catch the bus with the signature gun strapped to his back. I saw many people of various faiths, and yet it seemed obvious that power, not faith, is the dividing force here. We entered through Lion’s Gate into the old city, directly into the heart of the “suq”, which seemed to branch out in all directions across the old city. We made it to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, however, were unable to visit Dome of the Rock due to the time of day we had arrived. The “suq” was fun but exhausting. The presence of Israeli soldiers, on the other hand, (even guarding the entrance of Al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock) was just exhausting. The tension inside the walls was palpable, and I dare say it is the same outside them in East Jerusalem, where Palestinians are being pushed out of their homes almost daily by “legal decree” so as to make room for new settler housing.

What I tried to reason through on the way home in the bus from Jerusalem was why I am capable of feeling so energetic in Bethlehem and not in Jerusalem. The occupation is ever present here as well, whether it is due to lack of water, the threat of enclosure at the border or, most prominently, the ever encroaching settlement’s like Abu Ghuneim, just to name one of the many tightening borders (via construction) in this area. However, one can not underestimate the physical embodiment of colonialism and occupation as represented by the Israeli soldier and his gun. The wall can be re-appropriated through paint; the soldier and the settler can not.

The bus let us off at the border crossing at the Wall and we walked through the narrow gated passages, numerous turn-style doors, and corridors to the other side: Bethlehem. Home. Numerous taxis wait on the other side of the wall to drive incoming Bethlehemites and visitors to their destinations; however, invigorated by our return home my mother and I walked the short distance back to the house. Walking along the Wall, I couldn’t help snapping a few more photos of what has become an iconic symbol of Palestinian resistance. One restaurant, “The Wall Steakhouse” has painted a large white square, manufacturing a concrete screen where they project soccer games. Another store has set up a “Banksy Cafe” near a site of one of the Banksy murals. In Palestine invention is often the byproduct of resistance. “Samud” does not only mean “steadfastness,” but also perseverance. I’m more than certain this all exists in East Jerusalem as well. But maybe Bethlehem is just in my blood. In my roots. I belong here.

“Thirsting for Justice” campaign near you!

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Palestinian vs. Israeli water use and access

“Thirsting for Justice”

July 19th, 2013 // 3:38 PM

This past Tuesday night I went to the Alternative Information Center, AIC Cafe (http://www.alternativenews.org) for the first time. This venue, for international, Palestinian, and Israeli activists, is engaged in disseminating information about the occupation, and puts on weekly talks and events. I have been meaning to it check since I arrived (better late than never!).

Tuesday evening’s talk with Nadi Farraj addressed the the impact of the Oslo agreements on water access, particularly with regards to Israeli water confiscation and Palestinian water consumption. Mr. Farraj worked with the Thirsting for Justice campaign (http://www.thirstingforjustice.org/) to help farmers and herders in Area C to construct wells (which is illegal under Israeli law) to sustain their families and livestock. Their wells have been destroyed by settlers and the government repeatedly, however, in another example of Palestinian “samud” (steadfastness) they continue to build and rebuild.

For more information about Thirsting for Justice (and how to organize a presentation) visit: http://www.thirstingforjustice.org/

Some important facts….

Under International Law

“Under international law it is illegal for Israel to expropriate the water of the Occupied Palestinian Territories for use by its own citizens, and doubly illegal to expropriate it for use by illegal Israeli settlers.” [http://www.Oxfam.org (November 2003)].

The Truth about the Wall

“Many of the most important underground wellsprings in the West Bank are located just to the east of the Green Line dividing Israel from Palestine. Israel has built the Wall not only to annex land but also to annex many of these wells in order to divert water to Israel and illegal West Bank settlements.” [www.ifamericansknew.com (July 2013)]

Average Palestinian vs. Israeli water consumption

“Average Palestinian daily consumption of water is about 70 liters per person, well below the 100 liters recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) to cover domestic and public service needs. In contrast, the average Israeli daily per capita consumption is about four times the Palestinian average (300 liters)[ii]. This is in contrast to European levels where for example the average daily water consumption in the UK is 149 liters per person while in France it is 287 liters per person[iii]. [http://www.thirstingforjustice.org/ (July 2013)]

Who “Owns” the Water?

Israeli policies and practices limit Palestinians’ access to the water they are entitled to under international law. Israel controls all sources of freshwater in the West Bank. Palestinians are only allowed, according to the Oslo Accords, to take 20 percent of the “estimated potential” of the Mountain Aquifer underneath the West Bank; Israel extracts the balance[iv]. As a result, Palestinians in the West Bank are forced to purchase over half of their water from Israel. Israel takes this water from the Mountain Aquifer over which Palestinians have rights to an equitable share[v].

In Gaza, 90 to 95 percent of the Coastal Aquifer, on which Gaza inhabitants are dependent for water, is contaminated due to over extraction and sewage contamination, making it unfit for human consumption. Palestinians in Gaza have hardly any other sources of water available to them. The aquifer is depleted and in danger of collapse[vi]. Restrictions imposed by Israel as part of its ongoing blockade make the rehabilitation of the aquifer and the search for alternatives extremely difficult. Palestinians in Gaza are not allowed to access water from the Mountain Aquifer. Israel also limits the entry of construction materials for construction, repair and rehabilitation of infrastructure that would allow for improved water management. Mass desalination of seawater as an alternative is too costly and unsustainable within the current context given frequent electricity shortages in Gaza associated with Israel’s blockade. [http://www.thirstingforjustice.org/ (July 2013)]

For more information about Thirsting for Justice (and how to organize a presentation) visit: http://www.thirstingforjustice.org/

No Time for Injustice

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“Banksy-homage” on the Separation Wall, Bethlehem

No Time for Injustice

July 16th, 2013 // 3:38 PM

How is it possible that another week has gone by so quickly, even though everyday feels like three. Even the simple past-time of playing referee as my niece and nephew jump on the bed, or running down the steps to the corner-store, or sitting down to read in the rare moments of lucidity are more potent. The best moments are like the produce here – smaller, but much sweeter. But there are also so many reasons to start feeling desperate.

This week: George Zimmerman’s not-guilty verdict was released for the murder of Trayvon Martin, from a “justice” system that works in favor of the fear-mongering, waning white majority, alive and well in both the United State and Israel; Israel is in the process of legalizing forced feeding to detainees on hunger strike, like the US performs in Guantanamo; Israel’s suspected attack on Syria at the beginning of July was confirmed, and another suspected this week, reflecting an approach and mentality much like that of the US in the Middle East, somehow above international reprimand; and yesterday, massive demonstrations in Palestine against Israel’s Prawer Plan, which passed in parliament in early June and threatens to confiscate 1,000 square meters of Palestinian Bedouin land and expel between 30,000 – 50,000 from their homes.

There are so many reasons to feel hopeless, and yet here I constantly come across people filled with hope. This evening I was invited to dinner in the garden of new friends. Abu Sami showed me proudly around his plot of land, where he grows everything from pomegranates and figs, to tomatoes and zucchini, and guided me back to visit his goats. Abu and Imm Sami, his wife, whom he doted on throughout the evening, sat us down for an organic meal of taboulleh (the parsley and tomatoes coming from their garden), pickled eggplant and cucumbers also from their garden, home made bread, and even organic wine made by Abu Sami himself. Sitting us down for a massive meal that he demand we consume in its entirety, Abu Sami joked that he was crazy, but that Palestine was a place only for crazy people. His joy was effusive, and even boosted the low spirits of my friend and her husband. Imm Sami said, “Please, eat more. You hardly ate anything,” with the reply, “It’s our spirits that need nourishing, not our stomachs.”

My friend and her husband, a Palestinian, met and were married more than twenty years ago and lived for many years in the United State. Some years ago they moved back to Palestine, however in that time their application for family reunification status has not been granted by the Israeli government. Now my friend’s visa is about to expire, and she is terrified to leave the country to renew it as she may not be permitted re-entry. These kinds of restrictions on movement affect not only the Palestinians themselves, but those with familial and emotional ties to Palestine. These tactics of intimidation and control not only cut off Palestinians from their loved ones in and outside of the country, but attempt to limit and obscure the Palestinian voice from reaching outside its parameters (primarily, to the “western world” with whom the Israeli government is most concerned).

Nonetheless, Palestinian voices and those who accompany them are being heard (although the end results are still to be seen): Today, the Israeli government responded with frustration to the European Union’s ban of EU cooperation with Israeli institutions operating in illegally seized, occupied Palestinian territory.

For more information about BDS (Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions): http://www.bdsmovement.net/

Water rights, water wrongs

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Water Rights, Water Wrongs

July 13th, 2013 // 10:17 PM

The dreaded day finally arrived. We ran out of water (and I don’t mean bottled water). We have been very lucky so far. There is a shared well (controlled by an electric water pump) which the four surrounding houses use, not to mention their relatives and friends, from which we get our fresh drinking water. As for running water for washing dishes, showers, washing, etc., this all comes from the cisterns on top of each home. The West Bank has no direct water access, and the issue of water rights is of course a critical problem here. Even knowing this, however, we weren’t as careful with our water consumption as we should have been. Therefore, on Wednesday morning when only a weak trickle came out of the shower faucet, it was time for me to tie my hair back into a tight bun, rather than washing it, and go next door to my aunt’s doorstep to confess water abuse. “This is our problem here,” said my aunt apologetically. “Every summer it’s like this with the water. We always run out and have to be very careful,” and she repeats, “this is our problem here,” as if she has something to be ashamed of for there not being water. I ask naively, “when will the next shipment of water come?” even though I know the answer – no one knows. “It could be a day, it could be a week, it could be a month.” It costs about 100 US dollars to fill the cistern, but besides the cost, the real problem is that there is no certainty when it will arrive.

The gap in water consumption between Israelis and Palestinians is a well documented problem followed by human rights organizations, such as B’tselem, which provide specific statistics. For a broad understanding of the consumption ration, B’tselem reports that the “per capita use in Israel is three and a half times higher than in the West Bank” (for more information visit http://www.btselem.org/water/consumption_gap). This means that the majority of water goes to Israeli-proper and the settlements (statistics as high as 80%), and what remains goes to the West Bank and Gaza.

This time we are lucky – my uncle is able to share half of his cistern with us. I can hear the water pump refilling our tank, and his feet treading across the flat roof between his house and ours. My aunt reiterates, “we must be very careful,” and by “we” she means “me.” We’re both embarrassed, her as the host, and me as the guest. I promise her to be very careful, and she tells me to please not worry, and that surely the water will come soon. This morning as I left the house I looked up to the large, rectangular cistern on top of the house, as through seeing it for the first time. I imagine it being shot through by a bullet as I have seen in videos and read online.

The Right of Return

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Palestinian olive wood sculptor, Beit Sahour

The Right of Return

July 6th, 2013 // 5:06 PM

My uncle knocked on the door early Saturday morning ready to take my mother and I to Beit Sahour for a special “behind the scenes” tour of several olive wood and mother of pearl workshops. When my aunt and uncle discussed this outing last night they used the word masna’ (factory), so I was expecting something quite different when we pulled up to the small hillside home. The owner of the workshop pulled up beside us in a brown Volkswagen Bug and walked us down to his one room workshop containing various hands tools, a workbench, a professional sander and saw, and stacks of finished and unfinished pieces. He brought us coffee (which I drank too quickly, terrified I would spill it on something) while we browsed and debated over gift options. After picking out several gifts (and some mementos) the Beit Sahour carpenter offered to give us a brief demonstration. Within minutes he had turned a flat piece of olive wood into the perfect figurine of a donkey (“khimaar”). The donkey, he said, was the faithful companion of Jesus in all places he went from Jerusalem to Egypt.

Breaking the tranquil moment, I added that “khimaara” was the first Arabic word (or scolding) I learned from my father (true story). The laugh this incited in the wood carver was gift enough, but as a special bonus he included the “khimaar” as a keepsake. Many pilgrims come back from Bethlehem with tokens of their faith. I’m coming back with a donkey.

The next shop was filled from the ground to the ceiling with exceptional olive wood and mother of pearl figurines, statues, plates, and prayer beads to name a few. I finally found an Arabic Bible, something I have had little luck with in the United States. After purchasing our second round of gifts, we headed to the third workshop. This workshop was pulled back from the road, and protected by a walkway fashioned from piles of olive wood. Here three men worked on their own machines, on their various projects. I wondered how many more workshops like these must be scattered around the hillsides. And how many generations back they had been working this profession.

In the evening my family and I attended a special event welcoming expatriates back to Palestine, young and old, at the Arab Women’s Union located down the hill from Bethlehem University. The event was filled with music (a fully equipped youth orchestra), a traditional Palestinian dance troop, and as the final act, the members of the Arab Women’s Union each in their “thobe btelhami” (traditional Palestinian dress) singing traditional and not so traditional songs (such as ‘Blowing in the Wind’ in both English and Arabic).

So, given all the tourist outings this past weekend one might think it would be impossible for me to pick my favorite. But, alas, the best part was Sunday morning spent with my niece and nephew. Sneaking into our kitchen to find us eating cereal we couldn’t help but feed their tummies and their curiosity. Along with cereal we watched “iftah ya semsem” (Sesame Street), “al-sanafer” (The Smurfs) and “tuum u jiirii” (Tom & Jerry). I got to try out my Arabic on their little ears (the true test of my progression). Finally, when their mom took them away, scared that my mother and I weren’t getting our own work done, my nephew slipped a picture of us under the front door like a fugitive passing furtive messages. It’s hard to believe that two weeks ago this was all unknown to me. For me, this brings a whole knew meaning to the right of return.

Mary’s Garden

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“Tourist Guide to the Occupation” signboard, Manger Square

Mary’s Garden

July 5th, 2013 // 9:43 PM

Today started out as the perfect lazy Friday. This means it started out with amazing food. My cousin works the Thursday night shift every other week, and so the tradition for Friday mornings go that on his way home from the hospital he picks up falafel and hummus. When he arrives home around 10:00 AM the family has the Palestinian version of brunch with fresh bread, tomatoes, cucumbers, pickles and olives. I’m trying out culinary variations on classics here that I have never seen before. This morning’s variation of falafel is stuffed with onions and sumac, and the hummus is topped with smashed, almost whole chickpeas, floating in diced hot peppers and lemon juice. My cousin tells us that in reality this Friday tradition is widespread. “Every Friday morning you see all your friends at the local restaurant, picking up falafel and hummus. It’s wonderful. The community is very important.”

After “Bethlehemite brunch” I wobbled back to our room determined to get some work done (and not to fall asleep). This took some heavy coaxing from another few cups of arabic coffee. After the first few days’ mistakes (such as, boiling the coffee over the rim onto the burner, picking up the handle too low and burning my fingers, and other general klutziness) I have finally got the coffee-making down pat. After getting some busy work done, I finally wrote an email to a friend and colleague here about printing the new “Tourist Guide to the Occupation” signboard currently located in Manger Square, outside of the church of the nativity. She got back to me right away and we decided to meet in the afternoon in Manger Square.

The Sign Board is located right outside the Bethlehem Peace Center and across the street from the Church of the Nativity. The bookstore is an amazing treasure trove of Palestinophile items, and although I knew I was there on a task, part of me just wanted to flip through the books for a few hours. I already know the box I plan on posting home will cost me an arm, a leg and a foot. My friend came into the Peace Center carrying a stack of brochures that accompany the poster outside, which are available in the bookstore.

Next we headed to the local printers so that we could transfer the image files, ready for print, and discuss logistics for installing of the new signboard. This all took much less time then I had planned and I started walking back home away from manger square earlier than I expected (and towards the weekend laundry I had left behind, hoping to postpone for Saturday). Luckily, I recognized Mary’s welcoming smile, a friend of my aunt who had visited only a few days before, as I trudged home in the afternoon heat. “Marhabtein ya Amanda! Come in, have some tea!” As she prepared me a cup with fresh mint, she asked about my family again and I asked about hers. I am from California, and so his her daughter. Her daughter is from Sacramento, and so am I. Ah yes, of course I know her daughter! And the small world of extended family and friends becomes again even smaller. At that moment her daughter and sister walk in with the groceries, and we hug and kiss. I keep feeling more at home here, and inside the safe confines of family and friends I can even forget the encroaching borders outside. But these lapses are temporary. Mary’s daughter, born here, had not returned for nearly two decades. Even so, when she attempted to return this past week she was interrogated at length and then turned away at the airport. Sent to Jordan, she was eventually allowed entrance, but these reminders of the displacement and abuse of power are daily, and hourly.

We climbed up to Mary’s roof to drink our tea and she showed me her garden, overflowing with cucumbers, tomatoes, mint, and zatar. We walked past a plump eggplant, which she palmed sadly and cut from the stem, squeezing it softly. “There is no water now.” She said, pointing to a large, empty cistern. “The Israeli government has cut off the water. I don’t know when the next load will arrive by truck. Maybe a week. Maybe two.” “Haram” she said, squeezing the limp eggplant again delicately.

Mary’s Garden
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Now Speaking in Bethlehem …

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Ilan Pappé speaking at the Shepard Hotel, Bethlehem

Now Speaking in Bethlehem

July 3rd, 2013 // 11:04 PM

One of the first things that I did after unpacking, showering and sleeping upon my arrival to Bethlehem was (for shame or not) to update my location on Facebook. I selected “edit” to change my current location, and typed “Bethlehem, Palestine”; however, after pressing the Save button, my current location was updated to “Bethlehem, West Bank”. So, it’s worth noting that Facebook is programmed to automatically “correct” my location. Of course, things are evolving even in the digital world, evidenced by Google’s recent, quiet modification of the “Google Palestinian Territories” home page to read “Google Palestine.”

I’ve heard that the impact of social media in circulating messages of freedom to various movements around the world is often exaggerated; however, I have only been here a week and it’s already helped me quite a bit. Whether it’s keeping updated on the recent revolution (part II) in Egypt, or what’s happening here in Palestine, I’m very thankful for my internet connection. Even so, word of mouth still has it’s place. While on the Bethlehem University campus today, a friend told me about an event taking place in the evening, which she had been messaged about (on Facebook). “Ilan Pappe is going to be speaking here in Bethlehem tonight. Do you want to go?” I’m not just a little embarrassed that I reacted like a giddy teenager at a New Kids on the Block concert. Certainly, I would have eventually had the chance to see Ilan Pappe speak on a university campus somewhere, but something about seeing him speak here was different.

My cousin dropped us off at the Shepard’s Hotel where internationals were already lining up into one of the main halls. It was strange to suddenly hear so much non-Arabic concentrated in a fairly large room, and realizing that although this event was open to the public, that (much like the activist community in Sacramento, and likely throughout the world) these people mostly knew one another. Ilan Pappé is a charismatic speaker. I felt jealous of his students at the University of Exeter for having a professor so capable of both thinking in complex terms, and of presenting complex realities in a tangible way. However, as he ran through the various paradigms of Palestinian occupation (colonialism, apartheid, sub-colonialism) and the necessity for activists and academics alike of reevaluating zionism so as to best comprehend the Israeli psyche, I felt my previous enthusiasm sink into despair. As we left the conference (with a backpack full of new texts) I wondered how I could apply this information. On the car ride home, as I asked my cousin and his wife (their two children already fast asleep in the back seat): “If you could envision a future for Palestine, would it be a one or two state solution.” My cousin replied, “Two. Two states, is the only way, and even now it is impossible with all the settlements in the West Bank.” I asked, “What if in a one state solution, both Palestinians and Israeli’s had equal rights, equal opportunities, and equal representation?” “Yes,” he said, “but how would that happen. Even the most liberal Israeli party, the Meretz party, only has 5% or 6% of the population, and they don’t want Palestinians in a state of Israel.” My cousin’s remarks mirrored very closely Ilan Pappé’s comments on the the Meretz party only an hour earlier. We were silent for a second, and I admitted out loud, “I guess there is a part of me that always leaves these lectures disappointed–as though I expected to leave with an answer.” The children are still fast asleep in the back of the car. My cousin shows me the hospital where he works, and we talk about Palestinian Mohammed Assaf’s recently victory on Arab Idol. As we drive past the market, my other cousin asks if I need to pick up anything at all before I go home, and we decide to go together later in the week. We make plans for a family lunch over the weekend before parking the car. Each parent takes a sleeping child and we climb up the stairs to the apartment just as they must have done a thousand times. This is the only reality that truly matters.

Sunday Drive

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View of settlements from Bethlehem

Sunday Drive

June 30th, 2013 // 8:10 PM

Today I woke up at 4:45 again, but I was happy to read in bed until 6:00 when I couldn’t wait any longer to eat breakfast. I’m not particularly hungry in the morning, but the excitement of eating here is probably part of the reason I keep getting up so early. It was a feast – fresh hard boiled duck egg, labne, babaganoush, rock bread, tomato and cucumber followed by Arabic coffee. Now I know why my father loves to eat tomatoes, cucumbers and cream cheese on a toasted pita in the morning – it could never be as good as it is here, but maybe the memory is enough.

I read from one of the books I brought with me (scanned of course) over breakfast by a professor that teaches at Al Quds University – if I can work up the courage I may try and contact him while I’m here. After my mom woke up I made another coffee and we started getting ready for church. Sunday morning in Bethlehem…it still didn’t feel quite real. We left at 10:45 with my cousin and her two children to make the 11 am service, which is the “more family friendly service.” It didn’t occur to me until we got into the car that we were driving towards the Church of the Nativity. My cousin pulled up right in front of the old church – “parking reserved for Christians on Sunday morning” she said – and we walked to St. Catherine’s – the parish church connected to the Church of the Nativity.

Mass was in Arabic, which meant this was probably the most engaged I had ever been in mass. The echo made it difficult to hear where some words began and others ended, so that I sat upright with my eyes shut, focusing on each word (appearing either quite devout or quite asleep). After service we went on a short drive around Bethlehem and Beit Jala. We drove up into the hillside where my cousin showed us the most spectacular view, distrupted only by the facing settlements spreading over the opposite peaks across the valley. She told us that the Israeli border – like in so many places – was moving, and now threatened to subsume the land of a famous, monastery and winery on this side of the hill, Cremisan, which is located on the border between Jerusalem and the West Bank. I wondered if it was the land the government wanted, the winery, or just another opportunity to erase evidence of established Palestinian economic self-sufficiency and history. And except for the people here, no one may know.

Although the ride was beautiful, the heat and the curves in the car were starting to make me feel a bit queasy. My nephew was starting to feel a little pekish too, and was now clamoring for the ice cream he had been promised in exchange for behaving well at church, which he duly earned. I could go for an ice cream myself, but since we were already late for lunch with my aunt and uncle, I knew that ruining my appetite would have been a bad move.

By the time lunch was over, the post-lunch, heat induced hangover had fully set in and I fell into a deep sleep almost immediately as I lay down for a short nap with the drone of an Arabic dubbed Turkish soap opera in the background. If I hadn’t had a quite misplaced nightmare about running away from zombies it would have been the perfect sunday. I’m not sure if the nightmare was caused by sleeping on a full stomach or the ache of witnessing the threat of land seizure and displacement again up close, but I’m fairly certain my aunts cooking is too good to induce nightmares.

Sign the petition to help save valley in Cremisan: http://www.change.org/petitions/save-the-valley-in-cremisan-support-bridges-not-walls